Race Blu-ray review
It’s easy for a sports biopic to hit every mark and be labeled “inspirational.” What’s a bit trickier is dodging the tropes and expectations that clutter the field and genuinely feeling like a story that had to be told. The story of Jesse Owens is certainly an important one—but the way it is told in RACE drags it down to a level entirely unworthy of his legacy.
Early on, the mother of Jesse Owens (Stephan James, who played civil rights activist John Lewis in 2014’s SELMA) tells him, “I knew you’d be cut out for great things. God spared you for a reason.” Owens takes this to heart and soon enrolls at Ohio State University, where he meets coach Larry Snyder (Jason Sudeikis, stepping into an unnaturally dramatic role), who sees that Owens reaches his full potential.
This potential faces roadblocks in the form of segregation within the United States and bigotry in Berlin, where the 1936 Summer Olympics are scheduled to be held, despite boycotts revolving around the insistence that Jews and blacks not be permitted to participate. It’s likely that most of the audience will know how this plays out for Owens: he sets numerous world records (three in less than an hour in 1935), gets in the middle of political turmoil, decides to compete in Berlin and goes on to win four Gold Medals at the Olympics, causing Hitler to storm from the stadium. (OK, that last bit remains a myth.)
That is the thin version of the story. So, too, is RACE, which apparently put the bulk of its creative efforts into the title, the double meaning of which is so forced that the full title may as well be RACE: YOU KNOW, BECAUSE JESSE OWENS RACES AND HIS RACE IS DESPISED DURING THE YEARS DEPICTED IN THE MOVIE. A number of sports biopics appear to stem from the simple point that a certain athlete accomplished this or that. What is neglected is the scope. RACE does a nice job at developing parts of this (the scenes at the Olympic Games are quite impressive), but it has limited the overall scope of the story by simplifying the majority of its inspiration.
RACE, directed by Stephen Hopkins (2007’s THE REAPING, 2004’s THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS), also introduces a number of prominent figures, including Olympic president Avery Brundage (Jeremy Irons, who also took on the role of Alfred Pennyworth in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE this year), Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (German actor Barnaby Metschurat) and filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Carice von Houten, Bill Condon’s THE FIFTH ESTATE), present at the request of Hitler himself to shoot the documentary OLYMPIA, to develop some of the inner workings of the Olympics. These are welcome, but their appearances are limited and may have been put to better use in a miniseries.
About halfway through the movie, Jesse Owens states, “There’s no black or white. There’s only fast or slow.” With RACE, there’s cliché or predictable. This is a bit of a shame, considering with Owens there was admirable and commendable.
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. Details are strong, colors are healthy and the overall image has a clean look.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English Dolby Digital 2.0. Subtitles in English, Spanish and French. The audio transfer offers clean dialogue, nice sound effects and a natural atmosphere, with the Olympic sequences in particular being quite impressive.
The Making of RACE (3:59): This brief featurette covers the story, characters and themes.
Becoming Jesse Owens (4:02) focuses on actor Stephan James’ performance and some background on Owens.
The Owens Sisters (3:10): Owens’ daughters—Gloria Owens Hemphill, Marlene Owens Rankin and Beverly Owens Prather—discuss their father’s legacy.